I've been here before. I've been here before many times. I liken my vigil to that of the dutiful village elder, the custodian of an ancient tradition and keeper of prophecy. Since time before reckoning has he undertaken a yearly climb to the summit of the mountain fortold in a vain search for signs of the returning King. Every year does he climb, every year does he return forlorn and despondant. "Does he return Greybeard?", the people eagerly ask. "Neigh gentlefolk", he replies, "neigh".
These ten long years passed have I maintained such a vigil. Though I look not for signs of a hero's return. Rather, I quest for signs of a viable desktop OS replacement. Okay, this is far less romantic, involves considerably less climbing and means that I can continue this blog without the tiresome archaic-o-prose.
Vista is a pretty tired OS, don't you think? I've got it on my laptop, have used it for about 4 months and I find myself distinctly unarroused by it. I don't hate - in fact, it feels just like a re-skin of XP. It doesn't seem to do anything particularly revolutionary though, it just kind of exists (and sometimes wobbles). Boring. But underneath that flacid facade, there beats a sinister heart. The not-so-subtle introduction of such mechanisms as WGA and DRM have left me thinking that my mantra of "never pay for an OS (but give generously to charity)" will no longer be a workable philosophy. Don't get me wrong, I'm still down with MS, I just reckon it would be nice to have a choice in the matter.
Linux has never really been that choice though. An over-enthusiasm for editing config files and a community populated by those insufficiently perfumed gentlemen for whom a dollar sign is an acceptable substitute for a captial-S... These elements do not combine to make an operating system you could happily give to your Ma to look up scone recipes with.
But it's getting there. With last weeks release of Ubuntu 7.10 Linux took one large step in the right direction. For the record, there are two main reasons why I usually give up on Linux:
- Lack of comprehensive hardware support. I always seem to end up sacrificing something - be it proper 3D drivers, Bluetooth, power management or something;
- I miss two or three core programmes from Windows - replacements exist, but they're just not as good. Programmes like Digiguide or Mirc;
For the first point, it is too early to tell whether this release is the one to cure this problem. Certainly the install worked brilliantly and within 20 minutes I had rebooted into a fully configured OS with everything apprently working. I would even go so far as to say that this surpasses the ease of setting up Vista (for this laptop anyway, which needs a whole world of proprietary drivers). Gimme a couple of weeks and ask me again.
The second point is really what this blog is all about. It's not an evangelical "use this OS blog", it's really a "wow, this was pretty cool" kind of thing. See, Linux has pretty much always had Windows support in the form of Wine, certainly as long as I've been tinkering with it. But previously it had never been remotely viable - it was a pig to configure, it was temperamental, it was slow, desktop apps looked just plain weird and didn't integrate well with the systray. But there always remained a glimmer of hope...
With precisely zero optimism, I attempted to get Digiguide working under Wine. The first surprise came when I downloaded the executable. Firefox recognised it as a Windows exe and asked if I wanted to open it with Wine. Why not, I thought. Up pops the familiar Windows installer, it installs and it runs. Just like that, prefectly. It minimises to the system tray, pops up notifications and reminders and generally behaves and looks like a native app.
I'm impressed, so I throw Mirc at it. Again, it runs, installs and works. It even creates a shortcut on the desktop and in the programme menu for you. Whizzer!
At the point, I'm getting cocky, so I give it the Steam installer. I fully expect it to fall over, and don't really care since everyone knows that you need a dual-boot for Windows games, right? This is undoubtably still the case, but Wine happily devoured Steam. And to my utter bewdilerment and amazement, it downloaded and installed Portal and TF2... and ran them at a perfectly acceptable frame rate at full resolution.
Regardless of whether you use it, or could find any use for it, that is cool by anyone's standards. Look, here's a linky to an image showing it all happening:
"Greybeard, is Ubuntu yet a viable replacement as an everyday desktop OS?", the people eagerly ask. "Listen, gentlefolk, I've been up yonder mountain all night getting my drink on and now I've got a storming headache and just want to listen to some Floyd, dig?"